Naturalist’s Notebook: Going Squirrely! | Tennessee Aquarium


Do you feed the birds at your house? If you do, a dinner guest that invites itself and always seems to be hungry will probably visit your feeders. And it doesn’t have feathers!

The Eastern Gray Squirrel, usually just called Gray Squirrel, is a mighty smart little creature! It almost seems to have superpowers.

Like Spiderman with fur, it climbs up trees with ease. Then it climbs upside down right back down the tree trunk. It can stop at any angle and be comfortable. It can leap for distances many times its body length between the tallest trees, and it can jump five or six feet straight up from the ground. I’ve witnessed this myself when a squirrel leaped to a bird feeder that I thought was placed high enough to be “squirrel safe.”

Unlike Spidey, no sticky spider webs are needed. All this is possible with little feet and claws that can hold on well to lots of surfaces, including the poles that my other bird feeders are hung from.  

Squirrels are acrobats, real masters of walking the high wire. Circus performers who are experts on the high wire use a very long pole to help them keep their balance. They hold it in the middle with the ends sticking out to both sides. Squirrels have a long fluffy tail that helps them keep their balance, and they can easily walk one hundred feet along electric wires between power poles.

Have you noticed that I keep talking about bird feeders? Like many people, I have tried to outsmart squirrels at my feeders because these little guys never seem to get full. They eat as much bird seed as they can, sometimes leaving little for my fine feathered friends. 

I bought a feeder with a spring that was labeled “Squirrel-Proof.”  Birds that land on the perches weigh so little that the feeding holes remain open, and they easily get the sunflower seeds. However, if a heavy squirrel sits at a perch, the spring contraption is weighted down and the feeding ports are covered. The diner is closed! It seemed like a really good idea. It took exactly one day for a squirrel to figure out how to get past this. It hung upside down from the wire the feeder was hung from and ate its fill.  

Like everyone else who has tried to outsmart squirrels, they have defeated my efforts every single time. I have to admit they are smarter than me when it comes to getting food.

All the pictures with this post were taken as a squirrel waited for me to go inside so it could continue eating. I have given up. Squirrels need to eat too, and I’ve started kind of liking them.

There is another reason to admire the Eastern Gray Squirrel. It is one of the most important animals in the Eastern deciduous forest. (That is the kind of forests all around us in Tennessee.) When my squirrels aren’t eating my sunflower seeds they like to eat acorns from oaks, hickory nuts, and the seeds in pinecones. 

Each year they bury some of this food in the forest. They have a great sense of smell and a good memory. Later on, they dig up many of the goodies they have stashed away, but they miss some of them. The seeds they “planted” sprout and eventually become trees. 

Around my house the forest is mostly made up of oak, hickory, and pine. Many of them are really large and tall. At least some of them may have been planted by an ancestor of my squirrels many, many years ago.

So, thank you, squirrels. I love my trees, and I hope you enjoy your next meal at “Mr. Bill’s Diner.”

Mr. Bill





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